Pick of the Litter
By Wendy Stone
A night out has an unexpected ending for Marissa Spencer. Ending up on the wrong side of town, she stumbles into a bar and is attacked by ten men. When all hope seems lost, a dark stranger saves her and sweeps her away to his huge estate and into the midst of a world she'd never thought could be real. How could she have known that her savior was, in truth, a shapeshifter? Who would have thought that the gorgeous black panther with the golden torq was really the man of her dreams? She could only hope that she'd found the Pick of the Litter.
Contains scenes of intense violence and sexual assault
Marissa screamed, falling backwards as the big cat barreled toward her, its long claws outstretched and almost gleaming in the light. Her hands were held in front of her, little protection against the fangs and claws of the creature.
Time moved in slow motion as she tried to back away from the muscular beast. Her feet slipped on the hard wooden floor, unable to get purchase. Finally, she turned her head, not wanting to watch as her life was ripped violently from her.
Another growl sounded, this one from off to her right. Marissa opened her eyes, gasping. This cat was even bigger than the first, solid with muscle and its pelt gleaming almost blue in the light. A strange golden collar ringed its throat, flashing as it roared again, showing huge fangs. Then it, too, pounced, but instead of coming after her, it hit the other cat, knocking it off its feet and down to the ground.
The second cat stood over the first, its teeth poised at the vanquished throat for what seemed like hours but could have in reality lasted only seconds. Deliberately, he backed away, letting the other cat up. The cat snarled once, looking at Marissa with glowing, evil eyes. The bigger animal growled low in its throat, teeth bared and fangs shining. The smaller cat seemed to bow to the bigger one and then trotted from the room, its tail whipping angrily.
Marissa stared at the big black cat left in the room, watching as it looked at her a moment. Then it moved toward her, a husky rumble coming from its chest.
“No,” she moaned, putting her hand up, only to feel the huge head bump against her palm, rubbing against her like a good natured tabby. It moved even closer, rolling on its back against her sock covered feet, rubbing against her legs.
She was so surprised, she couldn’t move for a moment. “Good girl,” she said hesitatingly, reaching out to rub at the rounded ears.
The cat grunted, giving her a look from its amber eyes that seemed disgusted. It rolled again, this time showing off definite male characteristics before coming back to its feet and standing next to her.
“Sorry,” she said, slipping to her knees. “Good boy.”
It seemed to be waiting for something and she finally realized that it wanted her to get up. She did, watching as the cat took a few steps and then turned to glance at her, impatience in his eyes.
“Okay, okay, I’m coming.”
She followed it back up the long stairs, walking beside the huge beast. He prowled with a feline grace that was poetry to watch. He made sounds in his throat as he walked, a strange noise somewhere between a grunt and a hum. Turning into a door that was partially ajar, he pushed it open with his head, slinking through and then calling to her with that same humming grunt.
Marissa walked into an elegantly feminine bedroom. Rose colored walls contrasted against white molding and wainscoting. Soft watercolors of flowers hung upon every wall. Stylish cherry furniture, including a high four poster bed, had her eyes lighting up in delight. She turned a small circle in the room, amazed to be in it.
Her companion leapt easily to the bed, padding a circle upon the soft floral spread before lying down and eyeing her in what looked like amusement. She moved closer to the bed, hearing the rumble of his purr as she cautiously sat on the edge. “Is this my room or yours?” she asked, feeling foolish. “I wouldn’t think something as magnificent as you would like a room this feminine, so I think I’ll believe it’s mine.”
The cat rose, moving closer to her, rubbing his huge head against her shoulder carefully.
“You’re a friendly one,” she breathed. “Thank God.” She lifted her hand, almost shrieking when the panther opened its mouth, closing it around her hand. He backed up on the bed, pulling her forward and then letting go. Marissa lifted her palm, amazed to see not even a sign of a tooth mark on her bruised skin. If it weren’t for the slight drool upon the back of her hand, she wouldn’t have known he’d touched her. “Next time, just tell me to lie down,” she groused, wiping the drool off on the oversized sweats she wore.
She curled up on the big bed, reaching down and pulling a soft throw out from under her graceful companion. Feeling incredibly safe in the big cat’s presence, she let her eyes close and exhaustion drag her deep into blackness.
* * * *
Hands grasped at her, pulling at her limbs, tearing the clothes from her body. Rank smelling men pawed at her, their faces distorted with lust, ugly and twisted with their perverted desires. Marissa screamed, fighting them off, her body struggling painfully in their grasp. A mouth closed over her nipple, teeth biting down sharply, drawing blood, bringing a shriek of pain from a throat grown closed from panic. “Please, don’t! Stop!” she cried as she was passed from one set of arms to another.
Lukah rose from beside her, shaking off the sleep that had taken him while he watched over her. Her writhing and mumbles had startled him at first and he hadn’t known exactly where he was. But now, he saw her in the grip of a nightmare, and knew what stalked her in her dreams. “Marissa,” he called softly, not wanting to scare her worse. “Come on, sweet one.” He reached out and gently touched her shoulder. “Wake up!”
She did, fighting his hand, striking out against him. He pulled her to him, holding her gently, but not letting her go. “It’s me, Marissa. It’s Lukah,” he said over and over. “You’re safe with me.”
“Lukah?” She pushed back from him, looking into his face. Then she crumbled as sobs shook her shoulders, her hands coming up to cover her eyes. “Oh God,” she wept. “They raped me.”
He drew her gently into his lap, holding her close, his hands rubbing soothingly across her back. “It’s over, sweet one,” he crooned, rocking her slowly. “You’re safe, you’re safe.”
Her sobs lessened and she lay compliantly against his chest. “Oh,” she said, her head coming up to look around the room. “Did you know that…”
“I have panthers in the house?” he finished for her, smiling down at her with a gleam in his gaze. “Yeah. They won’t hurt you.” He slid her off his lap before she realized he was naked. “Go back to sleep, Marissa, it’s still early.”
She curled up against the pillows, looking for the entire world like a teenager in the over-sized clothing. Yawning, she reached out and took his hand. “How many of them are there?” she asked.
“A few, but they won’t bother you. I promise.”
“The big one that saved me had a collar like your necklace,” she muttered sleepily, her hand reaching out to barely graze the heavy gold. “He had eyes like yours too.”
Lukah held his breath as she reached out and touched his face with gentle fingers. His heart tripped in his chest as he waited for her to say more. Instead, she smiled sleepily and curled her hand under her cheek, her eyes closing.
He moved on the bed, scooting toward the edge with a grace that was fluid and lithe. Her soft sigh stopped him and he turned, stroking his hand over her cheek. “Sleep little one. When you wake, we shall talk.”
She rubbed her cheek into his palm, trusting him and making his heart leap. His gaze moved over the perfection of her slim features, marred by the bruise that was forming on her cheek. She was beautiful, there was no denying that. But there was something else that stirred these deeper emotions in him, something under the damsel in distress he’d rescued. She held a core of strength that was not often found in the female of her kind.
Beauty, he thought, staring down into her face, relaxed by sleep. Creamy skin, with a slim nose and large expressive heather-colored eyes that could look into his soul. A high forehead crested with long, curly auburn hair that shone red/gold in the light. Full, soft lips that curled sweetly in her dreams. He longed to know how she would taste, how she would respond to his touch.
With a shake of his head, he stood, an impressive naked specimen. He stretched, reaching up, his hands grazing the ceiling of the room. Tearing his eyes from her, he left the room with a measured tread, closing the door quietly behind him.
“Well, cousin,” he heard the feminine purr, turning his head to glare at the woman standing behind him.
“What do you want, Lucinda?” he asked softly, though his impatience was clearly evident in his voice.
“I can’t just want to talk to my favorite cousin?” she asked silkily, stalking towards him with the inherent grace of their kind. Her black hair was a loose cloud around her oval shaped face. The amber of her eyes glowed as she looked over him, purring to let him know she was enjoying what she saw.
“You’ve never wanted to just ‘talk’ before, Cin,” he sighed. “I can’t believe you’d want to start now.”
Her hand came up, resting against his bare chest. She moved close enough that he could feel the heat of her body through the leather pants and silk shirt she was wearing, her unfettered breasts brushing against his arm. “Well,” she sighed, stroking his hard chest, “perhaps I wish more than just to talk.” She chuckled huskily, sounding almost like the humming grunt of the big black cat. “Just talking was never enough for you before.”
“Cin,” Lukah began, moving her hand off of him. “Not now.”
Lukah cringed at the sound of her voice, knowing by the anger he could hear that she would be hell to be around unless he could satisfy her in some way. “I’m tired and hungry, Cin. I need a run and something to eat. Until then, go find one of the others to sate your lusts with.”
“You wish for me to go to someone else?” she asked, her voice full of disbelief.
“Yes, go find Ajax or Dimitri. Either would be more than happy to scratch your itch for you, Cin.”
Lucinda stared at him for a moment in disbelief. Then anger flared, flaming in the molten gold of her eyes. She stamped her heeled clad foot heavily into the carpet, a screech of rage coming from between her lips. “You turn me away? How dare you? Do you know who you are insulting with your words?”
Lukah felt his own anger stir, the rage that had taken him last night still needing a worthy outlet. He felt his jaw shift, his teeth lengthen as that rage triggered the change inside of him and fought it. He couldn’t change now. Shaking his head, his long black hair sliding silkily over his shoulders, he pushed back the desperate urge. “Cin, if you know what is good for you, you will leave now. Go find the others, tell them I have a guest here, a human guest.”
“Now you make me into a messenger?” she growled, her own teeth lengthening. “I do not do your bidding unless it is my wish to. Do you forget who my father is?”
“Do you forget who made it possible for you to come here? Do as I say, Lucinda. Else you will force me into actions I do not wish to take.” He narrowed his eyes, a headache pounding behind them from dealing with the spoiled and selfish cat.
She narrowed her own. “You’ll be sorry,” she said softly, before spinning, her hair slapping him in the face as she swung around.
Lukah watched as she strode away, anger in every twitch of her hips. Sighing heavily he turned toward his bedroom once more.